By KALINA SAWYER’18
Lake Forest College held its very first TEDx event on October 27 at Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel. Eleven speakers came from Chicago, New York, and the Lake Forest College community to share in the mission of the international organization, TED: “Ideas worth spreading”.
This TEDx event was the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work from the new TEDx student organization on campus. Hakob Parsamyan ’20 came up to the Gates Center in September of 2016 with the idea of starting a TEDx organization to plan a TEDx program for the school. He did this because, as he said, “Ideas can be transformative and have an impact on our community. I wanted to bring TED to campus to inspire others to make a positive change.”
The theme of this year’s TEDx event was “Curving the Straight Line,” conceptualized by the team of student organizers. According to the TEDxLakeForestCollege website, this theme is “a figurative representation of people who think differently.”
“Currently, many people in our world and on campus don’t want to listen to other ideas because they feel their ideologies may be threatened,” said Parsamyan. “TEDx is an opportunity to be a platform for different voices and create dialogue.”
To showcase unique voices and points of view, the TEDx team selected three students, four professors, and four unaffiliated speakers to give the talks.
Some of these talks brought attention to long-held questions in academia. For example, Professor of Psychology Matthew Kelley’s “How the **** does memory work?” shed light on the counter-intuitive “generation effect” of humans’ tendency to remember left out, or censored, information. But this wasn’t your ordinary classroom lecture; with the pressures of internet immortality, the stakes were high, and Kelley “put at least 20 hours of work into a 15-minute talk.”
Assistant Professor of Sociology Todd Beer gave a talk on “climate justice,” which encouraged framing the issue of climate change through a justice perspective. “As somebody who’s passionate about what they research and write about and teach about, any opportunity to share that with an audience you don’t want to pass up,” said Beer.
A few talks focused on personal narratives, like Krista Grund Wickramasekera’s ’20 talk called “The Glasses We Wear” on her perspective as a multiracial individual, having looked through many different “social glasses” in her life.
“Humans are reservoirs for information that we need to tap into,” Wickramasekera told me. “I wanted to share ideas with others who, perhaps, felt the same or never thought of race and perspective in this way.”
Event Manager Sushmeena Parihar ’20 was one of four students who read through speaker applications and voted on the final presenters. She’s been working on TEDx for the last year, with roles ranging from determining the event schedule to working out the logistics of the event. But she told me that the planning process has “not been easy.”
“TEDx is very detail oriented so you cannot just ‘wing it’ or do whatever you want to do,” Parihar said. “There are lots of rules to follow.”
Alongside the six other members of the TEDx team, Parsamyan and Executive Producer Hajar Habbal ‘20 worked as the eyes and ears of the event, making sure all of TED’s rules were met. Habbal oversaw the standards for video quality and the talks’ content, and prepped speakers backstage to ensure a publishable performance.
“I had to make sure all the speakers were following regulations of TED to make sure no videos were denied,” said Habbal. “If we didn’t follow the protocol, we wouldn’t get a license the year after.”
Organizing these details was often a “full-time job” Habbal said, ever since Parsamyan asked her to work by his side in early fall of 2016. “There were times when I worked 9 hours a day,” said Habbal. “During winter break, I spent the entire time with TEDx. That’s why I know everything by heart.”
Some of Habbal’s many roles included constructing job responsibilities for all of the TEDx student organizers, holding the organizers accountable for deadlines and duties, and overseeing the details of TEDx on the night of the event.
Parsamyan echoed Habbal’s sentiment when he told me about his year of hard work to make TEDxLakeForestCollege a reality. As licensee and director, Parsamyan also monitored the work of all the other TEDx organizers and oversaw the legal and financial aspects of the program, including seeking out sponsorships from on-campus departments.
“We created a spreadsheet with 300 things we had to do, each with its own deadline…I would stay awake until 4 a.m. and write emails to people,” Parsamyan said. “TEDx was a full-time job for me for a whole year, only I wasn’t being ‘paid’ for it. I was being paid by my own satisfaction and the good of the community.”
And Parsamyan, like Habbal, has insisted that the team’s hard work has paid off.
“The TEDx event was one of the first international conferences we’ve had [at Lake Forest College],” he said. “I’ve not heard of an event on campus that could connect so many people from around the world.”
Parsamyan was referring to the fact that at least 600 people, from all over the world, watched the TEDxLakeForestCollege livestream. As of November 28th, each talk has been posted on the TEDx YouTube page, which has 9 million subscribers. It’s not uncommon, according to Parsamyan, for a TEDx talk from a small school like Lake Forest College to garner millions of views on YouTube, and thus more international recognition.
Guest speaker and entrepreneur Andrew Gabelic, who flew from New York to give a talk called “We’re Lucky We’re Millenials Drowning in Debt,” has already recognized the College’s exceptional community. “I’ve loved meeting students, seeing them in their natural ecosystem,” Gabelic said. “There’s a great energy here… It’s been an amazing experience.”
Robert Simovic ’19, an attendee at the event, also suggested that the TEDx organization will be a positive feature for the College’s reputation. “TED Talks are widely recognized and respected all around the world,” Simovic said. “I expect having the opportunity to be involved with TEDx will make it more appealing to come here.”
Parsamyan plans to direct another TEDx event for 2018, and find freshmen and sophomore students to help sustain the tradition of TEDx talks for years to come.
But with his 300-point spreadsheet already prepared for next year, Parsamyan hopes TEDx will just be “a part-time job” now.
Kalina Sawyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org